By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has given the green light to rice traders to import small volume of rice from Malaysia to boost supply in some parts of Mindanao.
The rice traders however will be required to pay the corresponding import tariffs for the rice stocks intended for Zambasulta (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) area, according to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
The President reached the decision on additional rice importation for Zambasulta during a mini-Cabinet meeting convened aboard the chartered flight to Israel, Roque said.
“Aangkat pa tayo kung ano ang kailangan – iyon po ang naging desisyon ni Presidente na kinakailangan i-authorize nang iangkat ng private sector. Pati po iyong Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, hahayaan po niya ang pag-angkat galing sa Malaysia pero pagbabayarin po ng taripa [We will import the rice we need. That’s the President’s decision authorizing the importation by the private sector. Also in Tawi, Sulu, Basilan, he has allowed the importation from Malaysia but with tariff payment],” Roque said in a radio interview.
“Hahayaan po niya iyong mga maliliit na quantity na pumasok galing Malaysia, at bibigyan niya ng permiso ang maraming mga nangangalakal para maraming bigas din po ang papasok diyan sa Zamboanga Peninsula, sa Sulu at sa Tawi-Tawi ng lalong mabilis na panahon [He will allow the small quantity of rice to enter from Malaysia. He will give permits to many traders to import so there will be plenty of rice in the Zamboanga Peninsula, Sulu at Tawi-Tawi as soon as possible],” he said.
The government has allowed additional rice importation after price increases were reported in Zamboanga and nearby areas due to limited supply. Rice supply reportedly dwindled in Zambasulta after intensified operations were launched against smugglers who long supplied the region with the staple.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol recently proposed the creation of a rice trading center in Tawi-Tawi to help curb smuggling and generate extra revenues for the government.
Piñol, in a Facebook post, noted that the government could earn between P1 billion and
P2 billion every year from the tariff payments of rice imports passing through the trading center.
It would also ensure a steady supply of legally imported rice for the Zambasulta residents until such time the Department of Agriculture and the local government units have fully revived the rice farming industry in the area.
“So, if the rice shipped in through the proposed Tawi-Tawi Rice Trading Center is covered with import permits, charged with appropriate tariffs and duties and covered with quarantine and sanitary clearances, would that still be ‘smuggling?’ Of course, no! That becomes now a legitimate rice importation,” he said.